Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SPORTS >> Osceola is Lonoke’s Little Rock road block

Leader sportswriter

If the 4A state playoffs had a disco theme, Lonoke’s fight song could be the Bee Gees’ classic “Stayin’ Alive.”

Staying alive is exactly what the Jackrabbits have done through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Another week of survival in the semifinals at Osceola this Friday will earn the Jackrabbits a trip to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for a shot at the state title.

Lonoke (10-3) earned the No. 3 seed out of the 2-4A Conference after losing early league games to Heber Springs and Bald Knob, but it did earn a first-round playoff game at home against Clarksville.

The Jackrabbits easily beat the Bulldogs 48-21 to advance to the second round, but have dodged one mishap after another the past two weeks.

Lonoke’s second-round matchup at Warren went to the wire, with Warren falling just short on a long field-goal attempt at the end to give the Jackrabbits a 28-26 victory. Lonoke then had to come back from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter at Malvern last week to beat the Leopards 21-20, making it eight straight victories for the Jackrabbits.

“The defense hung in there,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “The defense held them inside the 5 and made them turn it over on downs one time and kick a field goal the other time, which was huge for us.

“I knew when it was 20-7 that we had a shot to make it 21-20, and that’s how it turned out for us.”

Osceola (11-1-1) is three games up on Lonoke in the winning streak category. The Seminoles tied Blytheville 22-22 to start the season and lost 18-3 to Dumas in Week 2, but have since won 11 straight.

Their unbeaten run through the 3-4A Conference gave the Seminoles their second consecutive league title and the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed.

“I’ve been telling everyone their skill guys look like Jamaican sprint runners and their linemen look like Russian shot-put throwers,” Bost said. “They’ll line up in that wishbone and run straight at you or try to get to the corners with a sweep. They have four guys on the line that are 300 pounds or more, and other guys that can run.”

A touchdown pass from Michael Nelson to Morgan Linton, followed by a late touchdown run by Brandon Smith gave the Jackrabbits just enough points Friday to advance, but it was the revitalized play of the Jackrabbit defense in the second half that stopped the Leopards after they scored two touchdowns in the first half.

“We made some minor adjustments,” Bost said. “But mainly we were just missing tackles. We didn’t have near the missed tackles in the second half. This week, we’re going to have to tackle well, because if you miss those guys, they’re going to be gone the other way quick.”

Friday was also an inopportune time for junior defensive tackle Antwane Wilkerson to suffer a wrist injury. Wilkerson, at 265 pounds, is the Jackrabbits’ biggest lineman.

Bost did not think the injury was significant enough to keep Wilkerson off the field and said Wilkerson didn’t have medical treatment over the weekend.
Lonoke’s close calls, clutch rallies and defensive stops of the past two weeks have tested the Jackrabbits in almost every imaginable scenario, which should help with Lonoke ahead, Bost said.

“I think that’s good,” Bost said. “Every time we’ve encountered those situations, we kept fighting.

“When you get this far into the playoffs, those situations are a good thing to have experienced. It can really help us out this time of year.”